Writing in Religion
by Stephanie Sleeper, Ph.D. Candidate, School of Religion
Religion or religious studies is an interdisciplinary field encompassing many methodologies and writing styles. Many methods in the humanities and social sciences are represented in the field of religion, and it is important to understand the methology/perspective of the course or assignment you are writing for. Scholars of religion write in historical, philosophical, literary, sociological, anthropological, psychological, and cultural studies styles, or a combination of these, and this multiplicity of styles makes it difficult to identify with others in the discipline, to write in an area you are unfamiliar with, and to identify the style of articles or books you read. Over the course of your graduate career you may be asked to write in a number of different styles, depending on your coursework. This guide is intended to serve as a primer for those new to the field or interested in the different ways of writing and researching in the field of religion.
Introduction: The diversity of the field
As you will learn in Major Interpreters, or any history of the discipline course, and can see just from thumbing through the AAR/SBL annual meeting program, the contemporary field of religion is extraordinarily diverse. This diversity stems from a multiplicity of origins in philosophy/theology, the social sciences, and the humanities. Unlike many other disciplines, the "stuff" of religion can fit into many categories--textual, anthropological/ethnographic, philosophical, sociological, historical, and psychological, to name a few. This diversity of source material also leads to a diversity of writing styles and methodologies, and can engender a lot of confusion on the part of new students in the field who may not have been previously exposed to this diversity.
To learn more about the recent history of the discipline, read a brief history of the field of religious studies at higher education institutions in the U.S.
The following is a very over-simplified overview of the different religious studies disciplines represented at CGU and the methodological/writing styles to which they generally ascribe.
Philosophy of Religion and Theology (PRT)
This is perhaps the simplest to pin down: philosophy of religion has a very philosophical methodology, and uses philosophical language, research questions, styles of argument, and structure. Theological and ethical works also tend to draw from the philosophical field. You might find assistance on writing in PRT at our Writing for Philosophy page, or at one of the links below.
Scholars of the New Testament tend to follow either literary/critical or philological (linguistic) methods of textual analysis (hermeneutics/exegesis), as their primary source materials are the original texts of the New Testament and other early Christian texts. Scholars of the New Testament often write in a very literary style, making arguments based on textual analysis and using literary theory and methodologies. You might find assistance in writing in this style at our Writing for English page, or at one of the links below.
Alternately, scholars of the New Testament might use social scientific analysis, for example, anthropological theories of rituals, demographic data, or psychological theories. See our Writing for the Social Sciences page for more information.
Theology, Ethics, and Culture
TEC is a very diverse program. Depending upon your specific interests and the faculty with whom you are working, it may encompass aspects of theology, philosophy, ethics, politics, history, literature, cultural studies, and the social sciences. As such, the papers you write for the TEC program will depend in large part on the nature of the courses you are taking and your own research interests. For more information regarding specific writing assignments in different disciplines, click here.
History of Christianity & Religions of North America
HC and the new RNA program both embrace historical methodologies and style. See our page on Writing for History for more information.
Women's Studies in Religion
WSR is defined more by subject matter--the experiences of women, past and present, than by any particular methodology or writing style. Depending on source material or specific course topic, see our pages on Writing for English, Writing for Cultural Studies, Writing for History, Writing for the Social Sciences, or Writing for Philosophy/Ethics.
Like the New Testament field, scholars of the Hebrew Bible focus on interpretation of their primary source material in the original language. Methods of textual or literary criticism dominate the field. As Antony Campbell notes, "There is no such beast as 'modern biblical scholarship,' there is a multitude of biblical scholars." Other scholars focus on the origins of the Hebrew Bible, and use historical and social scientific methods. Still others use archaeological data to provide context to historical accounts in the texts. Our page on Writing for English contains many links to critical theory and writing literary analyses that might help Hebrew Bible writers. Also see our Writing for History and Writing for the Social Sciences pages.
Work in Islamic Studies involves the use of many methodologies, including historical study, textual criticism, literary theory, and translation. Depending on the assignment, refer to our pages on Writing for English, Writing for Cultural Studies, Writing for History, Writing for the Social Sciences, or Writing for Philosophy/Ethics.
Common threads: what holds us all together?
These are all academic disciplines, and as such, all religion papers offer a specific and original thesis, construct an argument based on analysis of evidence to persuade the reader, and offer a conclusion that is significant for the study of religion. Need more help on the nuts and bolts of academic writing? See our General Writing Tips, Specific Writing Assignments, and Links pages.
The convention in the field is to use either the Chicago/Turabian style (footnotes and bibliography) or the MLA style (in-text citations). Make sure you know what your professor prefers, or what the conventions are for dissertations or articles submitted for publication. See our documentation page for more information on both styles.
Types of assignments you might encounter
Textual analysis/primary source analysis/critical reading
Book Review/Review Article
Short Analysis paper (answers a particular question)
UNC guide to writing in religion studies
Geared for undergraduates but a very thorough explanation of the diversity of writing assignments/styles in the field.
Guide to Writing in Religion: Exegetical Style at Presbyterian College
Useful for non-specialists in NT/HB
Research papers based on MLA style http://webster.commnet.edu/mla/index.shtml
LTSN Religious Studies Info (UK)
Writing for Religious Studies at Dartmouth College
Very extensive information and links to resources on writing in the field of religion, including sample papers. Geared for undergraduates, but an excellent overview.
Writing Papers that Develop a Thesis at UNCC Religious Studies Department
Philosophy Writing Resources at Morgan State University
Virtual Religion Index at Rutgers
Religion link at Duke
Religion Links at UFL